7 Jan 2015

Gun attack on French satirical magazine kills 12

Gunmen armed with assault rifles kill 12 people in an attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

(Warning: this video contains graphic scenes which some viewers may find distressing)

French President Francois Hollande has described the attack as being “without doubt a terrorist attack”. Four more people are seriously injured.

Graphic footage has been posted on social media, showing two men dressed in black shooting and injuring a police officer in the street before running over to shoot the officer dead on the pavement. The two men then return to a black car stopped in the road before the video ends.

I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war. Gerard Biard, editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo

French news website 20minutes.fr reported one eye witness as saying the men shouted as they approached the building: “You say to the media that it was al-Qaeda in Yemen”.

Confirmed deaths

Cartoonist Corine Rey told the French weekly Humanite that she was forced at gunpoint to open the office door, and then hid under a desk as the shooting took place. Her fellow cartoonists Stephanie “Charb” Charbonnier, Jean Cabu, Bernard “Tignou” Verlhac and George Wolinski were reported to have been killed in the attack, as well as economist Bernard Maris who was a Charlie Hebdo shareholder.

Mr Charbonnier was editor in chief of the magazine when it was targeted in a 2011 arson attack after running a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

He was included in a 2013 Wanted Dead or Alive for Crimes Against Islam article published by al-Qaeda’s magazine “Inspire”.

Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief Gerard Biard, who was in London at the time of the attack, has told France Inter: “I don’t understand how people can attack a newspaper with heavy weapons. A newspaper is not a weapon of war.”

The French National Police is in pursuit of three suspects thought responsible for the shooting, officials said on Wednesday. It seems the attack was carefully planned as it apparently happened when an editorial meeting was taking place, meaning more staff members than usual were in the office.

Cartoonists pay tribute: 'our hearts are with Charlie Hebdo'

Workers elsewhere in the building fled to the roof as the attack took place.

Eyewitness Benoit Bringer told French television channel iTELE “about half an hour ago two black-hooded men entered the building with Kalashnikovs.” He described hearing a lot of shots a few minutes later.

Another witness said he had heard 40-50 gunshots before seeing two people fleeing in a Citroen C1.

Visiting the scene, the French President Francois Hollande said the country’s threat level was now raised to the highest level and vowed to continue the fight against terrorism and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice. Police have launched a manhunt across the capital. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said three men were being sought.

The Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF), which represents more than 250 Muslim organisations across France, condemned the killings.

Religions, like all other ideas deserve criticism, satire and, yes, our fearless disrespect Salman Rushdie, author

“Charlie Hebdo has just become the target of an appalling attack,” the group said in a statement. “The UOIF condemns, in the strongest possible terms, this criminal attack and these horrible murders. “The UOIF offers its condolences to the families as well as the employees of Charlie Hebdo.”

The attack on Charlie Hebdo coincided with the publication of a controversial novel by French author Michel Houellebecq, whose latest work Submission has been branded Islamophobic by critics.

Houellebecq, whose caricature featured on the front cover of this week's edition of Charlie Hebdo, imagines France in 2022, with the leader of a fictional Muslim party winning the presidential election and curtailing civil liberties. Houellebecq has been accused of giving succour to the far right, but has denied charges of Islamophobia.

Speaking in London, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”

US President Barack Obama said he “strongly condemns” the horrific shooting, and promised to provide any assistance needed to “help bring these terrorists to justice”.

Read more: Jon Snow 'Charlie Hebdo shooting is a ferociously shocking moment'

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, condemned the attack and called for people to join a silent protest march on Thursday.

Charlie Hebdo has previously been firebombed after publishing a spoof edition in 2011 “guest edited” by the Prophet Mohammed. It showed a cartoon of Mohammed, with the words “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.”

In 2006, the magazine, which prides itself on being offensive to practically everyone, republished cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which had caused controversy when they first appeared in a Danish newspaper.

The last tweet sent from the Charlie Hebdo account sent “best wishes” to the leader of the Islamic State militant group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Reports in France have suggested the attack was carried out during editorial conference to discuss the next issue of the magazine – an Islam-themed edition.

Author Salman Rushdie said in a statement: “I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaing ‘fear of religion.’

“Religions, like all other ideas deserve criticism, satire and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”